Family Matters,  Life Lessons,  the sticks

deep thoughts from the sticks…

Here I am at my mom’s house. I’ve been doing laundry all day. Laundry and holding the baby and watching my nieces practice their “routines” to the Numa Numa song (that makes your mind go “numa numa” after a while). I’ve also tried to clean up a little bit of my mom’s house but it just ends up making me mad. I almost threw her big brown kitchen trash can across the floor today because I couldn’t get the bag out for all the mops and brooms and buckets of trash and pop cans and laundry that was in my way. I was so frustrated. I love coming out to the sticks to visit all my relatives but once I’m here, I go crazy just trying to walk from one side of the house to the other. Don’t even ask me about trying to find a pair of scissors.

I love my family I really do and I know I’m going to regret venting about them again… but man oh man does the mess drive me batty. I think to myself: I’ll just put one thing away at a time and eventually I’ll make a dent. But I never make a dent. I throw away trash, I do loads of laundry, I wash dishes sometimes… I put things away, I give my mom unsolicited advice about how she can be more organized… it doesn’t matter. It is like yelling into the wind.

My mom says it is mostly my brother and his family that bring all the mess into her house and I have to admit she’s 80% right. My brother is a self proclaimed slob. The other 20% is that my mom is getting older and she gets tired easily. She’d rather sit at her computer and play solitaire than load the dishwasher or clean up a cat hair ball. I don’t blame her really. You get exhausted just looking at it all. It really is overwhelming. But it’s not like starting over from scratch with a clean slate would really change anything.

It’s been like this for as long as I can remember and we’ve moved and started fresh dozens of times. I even remember a few times when friends and relatives came in stealthily while we were on vacation and cleaned the house from top to bottom. It lasted about a week. All I remember is complaining that we couldn’t find anything.

There is always some reason or excuse for the mess. The house is too small, the jobs are too demanding, everybody is exhausted, the kids are lazy and don’t help out… the excuses go on and on… but I really think it’s just too much a part of who we are and maybe that’s why it bothers me so much. It’s a part of me that I’m trying to excavate like a painful ingrown toenail. I’m too close to it. I hate it because it is me. It represents everything I come from in a bitter-sweet package.

Today my brother and sister-in-law came over and the next thing I knew the dining room table was covered with the makings of bean dip and wrapping paper and seventeen little packets of ranch dressing from Carl’s Jr. It’s craziness I tell you. You can’t look at one square inch of my mom’s house without finding the left-behinds of fifty half finished “projects”. But I had no idea my brother invented his own special recipe for bean dip and it’s actually quite tasty and unique. How cool is it that my mechanic brother who never cooks or lifts a finger to help out around the house, can make a giant pot of bean dip for a pot luck party they are going to this evening? I think it’s downright adorable.

My sister-in-law also brought over a batch of fudge and brownies. I love chocolate. I can’t complain about that. She also taught her daughter Rapunzel how to make a pudding pie. It’s so sweet to watch her teach Rapunzel the basics of measuring and reading directions. Is it really that important that she also teaches her how to clean up after herself? How can I get upset about the sticky blobs of tomato sauce and pudding powder when valuable mom-daughter lessons are going down? Why am I so uptight about messiness?

Sometimes I wonder if you have to choose whether to have orderliness or happiness in life. Both never seem to come together. My house might be neat and somewhat clean but it can also be sad and lonely. We don’t have dinner parties or movie nights with popcorn and hot fudge sundaes. We don’t have giant birthday parties with carnival games or pretend beauty salon sessions with finger-nail painting and lotion foot massages. At my house it’s all about being quiet and not having too much junk. I’m constantly stressing about trying to get the dishes done before the baby wakes up or keeping the never-ending collection of plastic grocery sacks under control. I work from morning to night cleaning cat boxes, sweeping up hair from the bathroom floor and trying to keep the credit card junk mail shredded in a timely manner. I cook and clean and barely take a moment to write an email or call someone up on the phone.

Is it possible to do it all and will I ever figure it out?


  • ash pdx

    Interesting post. I think it is a balance. I have an aunt who is constantly obsessing over cleaning up and it is NO fun. however, I feel like I could have more fun if I didn’t have messes in the house.

    Maybe you can point your mom to, it has helped a lot of people. It helps the chaos be not so overwhelming by tackling it in small increments and slowly developing habits. I don’t think you can change things over there, it has to come from them. (-:

  • meg

    Oh, SAJ, it is possible to be both neat and fun-lovingly happy. Okay, I don’t know crap about NEAT, but decent-enough-to-let-strangers-into-the-house, yes, absolutely. I come from that same background, and you *can* get past it. We managed, and we don’t even have a Bug to inspire us. Keep the faith.

  • DeeJay

    According to both of my teenage children the messiness that you experienced in your childhood is “the norm.” I, on the other hand, made sure that the house was clean. I prefered it that way and now both of my kids keep their stuff clean and in an organized manner. They can do dishes, clean bathrooms, do yard work and vacuum with the best of them. Did I mention that I had them start doing their own laundry years ago? Yes! They started by just learning how to sort and we’d kind of make it like family time. (weird huh). But we would take the laundry basket and dump it on the floor then sit around it together and sort. Oh the conversations that arose from dirty underwear / sock sightings. I still do the towels and sheets myself but they now wash / dry / fold / hang and put away their own clothes.

    So my point is, there is nothing wrong with how you feel about the messiness. You feel how you feel and there’s no need to find justification for it. You are keeping things at home the way you like them and you are also breaking the chain in doing so. Baby Bug will grow and see how it is supposed to be done and one day make you proud by organizing her Barbies, shoes, cd’s and family photos in her hot pink bedroom with the beads hanging in the doorway.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself for feeling what you do. You’re fine.

  • rachel

    i war with similar issues within my family and within myself. it was soooo much easier to keep on top of it for me before i had a child. now it takes a lot more of me to find that balance, and i always seem to be landing on one side or the other of it instead of in the middle. one thing i wonder is why it still so frequently falls to the women? why am i the one who always feels so obligated to the cleanliness and organization of the house in greater proportion to my dh? sure he does dishes and takes out the trash, but if most any other part of the house needs managed it’s my domain. flylady is a great idea, but why is the it all your mom’s responsibility when it sounds like several people are making a mess? i get frustrated in my house when i work to get things the way i want them and everyone else tears them up. then i go through a “give up” phase. i’m often worried my “give up” phases will become too long and i’ll stumble into a situation like your family or my family have been in. thank you for writing about this. most people don’t talk this honestly about it.

  • Auntie Keren

    It’s simply who you are that comes through. You are getting good advice/comments. I think you can rest in the thought that your little home is your sanctuary. You can come home to a well run home and relax. You love things neat and so do I. Ask Aunt J. She adores straightening thing out, restoring order from chaos. Even laundry is therapeutic to her! I used to stress about grandma’s lack of tidy-ness…do you really need three counters to make toast? I would clean the kitchen before work and come home to…then I remembered, she is an Ivy League Graduate, very cerebral, very kind, but very intellectual. There are things she is and things she’s not. She just plain doesn’t see the mess. It’s not important to her to be neat. I don’t expect her to keep things up to my standards anymore. I do what I can and leave it at that. I like to find things when I need them. I get agitated when I can’t find a seam-ripper, so I bought five. I found it so liberating, just to let it go.

  • Molly

    I hear you, I hear you! I have this issue too but within my own house. I am a neat freak, and my partner is a messy slob. We both need to meet in the middle but it sometimes seems like a constant battle. I feel as you do about the mess. If I see mess around me, my brain has to process it and it’s draining. I find it difficult to relax until all the jobs are done. And as my partner just doesn’t see the mess, he therefore doesn’t feel as responsible. Sometimes it drives me nuts.

  • foodmomiac

    As everyone else has said, there is certainly a happy medium. I’m not neat, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do try to pick up on a regular basis, and just maintain things. My mom is a neat freak, so kind of the opposite of your childhood. But.. my best friend’s apartment looks just like your mom’s house, so I can relate to how you feel while being there. Whenever I visit my friend, I end up with a migraine from the stress of just being there.

  • Andrea

    If there is a way to have/do it all, please share the secret with me. I also try to keep a very clean house, but it is a never-ending battle when I spend 90% of my time playing with and running after a very active 1 year old. There are some days when it drives me crazy and I just HAVE to get things done and then there are days when I just say “to heck with it” and enjoy life with a messy house.

    The pictures you took of your mom’s house could have come from my mom’s house. She is the exact same way. When I lived at home, things were always clean, but once I moved away, things went downhill…fast. Every time we go to visit, I cringe at the amount of clutter. I used to spend all my time cleaning and doing laundry for her. I thought I was helping (and I’m sure I was to some degree) and that once I made a dent, she would be able to keep it up. Nope, not gonna happen. My husband and I even went down there one night when she was away and cleaned the entire house from top to bottom. I think it lasted 2 weeks. I’ve just learned to let her live her life her way and I’ll live mine my way. When we go to visit with my son, I just make sure to spray everything down with the new Clorox Anywhere spray. :o) It has given me some sanity.

  • Anonymous

    How interesting that you blogged about that today! I am working on a draft about getting the van clean. I hate clutter! One of my biggest pet peeves. Yet with four kids running in and out all day long and a hubby whose mum looked after him til we married, it’s a never ending battle. I found that the major part of the problem, though was probably me! I come from the same stock as your mom, you know. I, and probably she, find it very hard to throw ANYTHING away. I know Gramma does too. (She grew up in the depression so she has an excuse. Your mom and I don’t). I have to close my eyes and force myself to do it. I have also found Flylady very helpful. But you have to want organization. I wanted it but didn’t know how to get it. She helped tremendously. It’s all about routines. That’s what I was talking about in my blog today–doing something (i.e. cleaning out the van) regularly. Every morning and every night I have a routine I go through. And I stick with it the best I can. If I can’t I don’t sweat it but try again the next day.

  • BeachMama

    You can have it both. I thought that it wasn’t possible when I was younger because I mistook my Mom’s totally clean house for not fun. I tried so hard to be the exact opposite. Then one day I had my own house. I realized that I loved the order and cleanliness of my Mom’s house. I have also found that my Mom (and Dad but he doesn’t clean) are really lots of fun, we have lots of fun, parties, the occaisional food fight and the best part is… we all leave it clean when we go! It works like that at my house too, it’s all fun and games, then we clean up :).

  • aunt kathy

    BTW as H gets older and you’re more into a routine, it does get easier to keep up. Believe me. Like BeachMama says you can have order and fun too. Keep it simple in both. (i.e., NO CLUTTER)

  • AmyinBC

    Also piping up that you CAN have both! Personally I cannot THINK or RELAX if my house is not tidy and I don’t think that is a sin. I also have a great time with my kids and we make messes. Right now I am working on teaching them fun and mess are good and so is learning to clean up afterwards!

    My secret to a reasonably tidy home is DITCH the CLUTTER! Old magazines are recycled ditto with the newspapers, junk mail. Kids art is proudly displayed on the fridge for a time, prized stuff framed and quietly the rest is tossed. Kids each have a downstairs drawer for their toys. When play time is over they go in the drawer or upstairs in their rooms. They each have a closet cubby for their back packs and coats, shoes and outerwear.
    We have a small house, if we don’t need it or have outgrown or no longer need, out it goes!
    As the mom of a baby though make your priorities for the day. Mine was first and formost getting out every morning and tidying/napping/cooking in the late afternoon. Getting out for me was key to my sanity and made the days more enjoyable all round. After our nap (my 3 kids were all nappers, pretty sure that was because their Mom needed them! ;) I could keep the house reasonably tidy.

    You are doing fantastic :)

    Man, I would have a field day at your mom’s house! ;)

  • AmyinBC

    BTW my friends house is way worse than your Mom’s. I can never relax when I am there and have no idea how she can with so much stuff needing cleaning/tossing. She once confessed she has no idea where to start so has pretty much given up. How I would love to go in there with a huge garbage bin parked at the front door…

  • Jamie

    Have you ever seen “Clean Sweep” on HGTV? Your mom’s house could be on there! My mom is the opposite. She is so neat it drove me insane growing up. Now I’m somewhere in the middle. I can’t relax if the house is a wreck (my husband makes fun of me for cleaning just as we are getting ready to sit down to eat dinner). With two kids and two dogs it is almost impossible to keep the house neat and clean. Usually I pick up for about 15 minutes after the girls are asleep for the night and I have to admit that makes me happy. :) But so much of the “mess” I just have to let go.

  • jailgy

    I can relate. I can never really relax if there is a half done project or stuff not put away. It niggles in the back of my mind til I do something about it. Yet sometimes I let it niggle for days. I really only get stressed about it if I can’t get it done for some reason or other. Then I just keep chipping away at it til it is not so overwhelming. Sometimes the job is so great and I’m not up to the challenge at all. It is those times I have to just let it go and not think about it. It really is not worth it. Like Auntie Keren said, I find making order out of chaos very therapeutic. Cleaning is another thing all together.

  • Bethany

    OHHH, the dilemma! I come from “tidy no clutter” stock, and have a huge lean towards that myself. I like the kitchen counter clean *before* I sit down for dinner. I now live in a much smaller space than ever, have a very active 4-year-old and another about to arrive, and a husband who is an artist but we can’t afford a studio right now. It is about compromise … even if they see the clutter (read the husbands art projects completely taking over my dining room area, and i squeeze my belly inbetween the shoved-over table and the stacks of stuff for a yard sale next weekend …) … they may not car enough to change it. for now. the art, or fun, or whatever just plain is more important or relevant. tidy doesn’t matter to them! or if it does, the pain isn’t enough to make them change it. it’s all been said … compromise, and you ARE doing a great job and have and do fun things. babybug isn’t old enough for pretend spa time and making pudding pie, but she will be and you will do it. you’ll probably melt some and end up with a messy kitchen … that gets cleaned up when she’s in bed. you can do both. thanks for sharing, and know that it’s *so* ok to feel that way, and probably better to get it out than boil about it! cheers and enjoy being you … a beautiful thing.

  • jen

    my mom’s house is the exact same way. my siblings never clean up. when i visit i have to force myself not to pick up after them because i will be the only one doing it! over christmas I sorted through and got rid of over five boxes of books. it makes my mom nervous to have her house cleaned – i am not sure why. i am terrified of being like that and when i let my apartment go for a few days i feel like a failure :(

    i know my mom’s place is too big for her – but even the few rooms she spends a lot of time in are filled from top to bottom. she is also a compulsive shopper/yardsaler and will buy stuff she “might need someday” if it is cheap. I find i also hoard things and don’t use them – i’m trying to stop because i have no room!

  • Christina (gentle hugger)

    After 22 years of Marriage..36 years of life an apparently being related to your family is some strange way..(the pictures I swear are my mothers and sisters home respectfully)

    all I can add is Yes you can have it all and no you can’t.

    it’s a balance.. and it depends on what you consider all.

  • Boogie's Mom

    I understand what you mean about the mess. It drives me crazy everytime I walk past Boogie’s room and her books and toys are all over the floor. I definitely think it’s important to keep things neat and teach the value of cleaning up after yourself. But then, there are times when we have to let go. The other day, Boogie wanted to plant flowers like her daddy. She had some fake flowers and dug up some dirt in the rosebed to plant them. Ralph walked by and saw the pile of dirt next to the flower bed and started to get annoyed. Then he realized that she was so proud of her work that he couldn’t say anything. It’s just finding the right balance.

  • Gena

    I see you have already been referred to FlyLady. I love that website and her take on things. I have four kids, one dog, one husband and my mother. I try to keep things messy enough to be fun, but clean & tidy enough so that I can still think. If everything around me is chaotic, my brain feels the same way. I had to learn not to be so ocd when I clean. I love the way clean LOOKS. But… it is not realistic when you have a house full of children. So, I have the kids help me keep it organized and tidy. I like clear tables, clean floors and a spotless kitchen. I have learned not to get upset when it gets so messy during the day. But… we have to do a “quick tidy” at night before bed so that we all wake up to a peaceful house in the morning. Good luck with your mom’s house – maybe she just likes it that way? I have an ex sis-in-law that certainly does!

  • Daisy Mae

    At the end of the day a nice house is nice and all but if I had young ones around I would rather make pudding pies with them instead of cleaning house. They grow up too quickly and life is too short to worry about crumbs on the counter or the mountain of laundry yet to be done.

    With that being said I have to secretly admit a messy house drives me batty too. But I don’t have little ones running around anymroe so I have all the time in the world to be neat. I think your family is absolutely great, messiness and all and your mom looks like she has a kind and gentle soul and loves her family. So the heck with the housework I say!

  • Michele

    My parents are pretty bad, not where your mom is but close. I used to be ashamed of our house when I was a kid, I never invited people in much and I always wanted to go to their houses instead. I would beg my mom to clean up before friends came over, sometimes she did, and sometimes she didn’t. I am the oldest of four girls and on top of that my mom babysat for side money a lot.

    Funny thing is everyone loves my mom and dad. I moved to Sacramento nearly two years ago and I miss the convince of seeing them so much. My friends and my sister’s friends stop by my parent’s house when they’re in the neighborhood. They have coffee, a beer, a glass of wine, and are always welcome to eat what they have even though it isn’t much.

    I on the other hand am a total clean freak, and I drive my mom and dad nuts when they come up visit. I drive myself nuts, having to see vacuum lines, and wiping counters in my son’s bathroom at least 5 times a day.

    I think you just have to love them for what they are. They obviously love you and your daughter so, so very much. They are like my parents in that area too, there’s no doubt I am loved.

    In the end I have learned to lighten up a bit, to not freak out when people come over and I haven’t made my bed by 11 a.m. In the end what’s going to matter is love, not how clean my toilet bowl is.

    BTW I don’t think my mom would be happy with me posting pictures of her house on the net.

  • Aunt Doreen

    Wow! I hear you Brenda. I don’t like clutter either. Although, my home isn’t as “uncluttered” as I would like it to be. You see, I have a husbund and a son (still at home) that tend to clutter. I have a hard enough time picking up after myself without needing to pick up after them. Very frustrating! My mother’s house doesn’t have clutter and neither does my twin sister’s. I don’t know what happened to me. I came out of the same mold as Dianna, but, as far as clutter goes, hers is cleaner. Anyway, don’t fret too much about a “little” untidiness here and there. As long as you can see where the floor is, the countertops are cleaned off, dirty laundry is in the hamper, and you can pretty much “find” things, I wouldn’t worry too much. If every member in the home doesn’t do their part to pick up after themself, then there is chaos. I believe it shows consideration. It’s also a good testamony to others to pick up after myself. If I’m a slob, then my children may be a slob. Something to think about!